Breaking the Rules, Part 1 – Elder Wren’s Response

Disclaimer: These are my opinions and come from the perspective of someone who has actively served the Henge of Keltria for over twenty-five years. I was a member of the original Keltrian Grove, and co-leader of subsequent Groves as Tony and I moved across the country. I’ve also served as President and Vice-President of the Henge. I do not speak for Elder Tony or Elder Karl. However, it would be irresponsible of me to allow so much misinformation to be published without comment.

Jenne raises a few good questions for the Council of Elders to address, and we will. The Elders are responsible for guiding the theological and spiritual direction of the Henge of Keltria. Only the Council of Elders is empowered to alter Keltrian theology and practice if such actions are necessary and deemed beneficial to the Henge as its members. These elected Elders also are the only ones authorized to make appropriate adjustments if general societal changes warrant action, and again, only if those actions are in the best spiritual interest of The Henge of Keltria. That said, the Council of Elders can't answer questions that no-one asks. We are approachable people who are willing to answer questions and offer practical advice. All it takes is an email to any one of us or all three. No-one is ever abandoned to "struggle with the rules" alone.

Jenne's editorial refers to the Book of Ritual, but doesn't mention the Book of Keltria except in passing as "…other Keltrian texts." The former is a manual for performing Keltrian rituals that was never meant to stand alone. The latter explains Keltrian theology in detail and the reasoning behind it. What began as an overhaul of our correspondence course in 2000, evolved into the Book of Keltria. Individual correspondence course lessons were updated and dovetailed into chapters. We published this book to accommodate people who were curious about us, but not interested in working with a mentor and doing the required course work.

The Book of Keltria is the product of fifteen years of serious research, debate and personal sacrifices made by a team of dedicated volunteers who are passionate about the Keltrian tradition. Sure, historical blanks needed to be filled and gaps bridged, but always with careful consideration and accepted scholarship. By popular demand, a chapter was added that chronicles the history of our church. This chapter gives an honest account of what we did right as well as what we did wrong. Some of our sincere efforts backfired magnificently. The Book of Keltria is required reading for anyone who seeks to follow the Keltrian path.

The Book of Keltria provides detailed explanations of what we do and why we do it. For example: Why do we celebrate Bilé who is not a member of the Tuatha dé Danann? Truth be told, the founders weren't completely satisfied with this choice, so they felt it was necessary to look outside of our chosen pantheon. Bilé wasn't, isn't and will never be promoted as an Irish god. In fact, one of the assignments in the new Keltrian Course of Further Study is to research old Irish mythology and present a better candidate. It's quite possible that another, more appropriate deity could be found in which case, the Council of Elders would consider making a change in Keltrian theology. This is not unprecedented. In the past, swift alterations have been made when newer sources indicated that previously accepted scholarship is proven to be in error. Rest assured, there certainly is no "unverified personal gnosis" involved. That said, any adaptations would become universal for all Keltrians.

However, one important aspect of our church's foundation must be taken into consideration before irrationally tossing Bilé out with the bathwater. Acknowledgment of the four phases of human life is an original Keltrian concept and the basis of our founders' choices of which matrons and patrons to celebrate. Bilé and his association with Beltane were selected to represent the unencumbered young man sowing his wild oats before assuming the responsibilities of fatherhood. Where in the old Irish mythology is the story that portrays Nuada Silver-hand in this light? Likewise, Aine is a finest-kind sun goddess, but is she a mother goddess? The English translation of "Tuatha dé Danann" is "tribe or people of Danu" so we often refer to ourselves as "the children of Danu." She cannot be arbitrarily replaced. Chapter 2 of the Book of Keltria addresses the importance of the four phases of life in Keltrian theology and Chapter 4 discusses whom we celebrate and why. No individual ever has the right to make unsupported, unilateral changes in Keltrian theology. If they do, then in my opinion, they are not practicing Keltrian Druidism and, therefore they are not Keltrian Druids.

The disposition of offerings can be a dilemma for urbanites and suburbanites who are unable to conduct rituals outdoors with a sacred fire. Fire is the force that transforms offerings into a state that our Gods and Goddesses can easily receive. When Tony and I led a Grove in suburban Atlanta, circumstances dictated that we hold our rituals indoors, so we collected offerings in a fresh paper bag and burned them later. If we were planning to attend a festival, we waited for that event. If not, we placed them in our backyard brazier after the Feast. The theological reason for burning offerings is important to us, but how important is it to Keltrian practice? I can't answer this question myself, so the subject is on the agenda for the next Council of Elders meeting.

Whether to use one or two chalices in ritual is another subject that the Council will debate. I have my reasons for using two – one for the matron and one for the patron. Although, I will say that if one chalice is used, it should be filled with spring water for its purity, not personal preference. Use a paten – especially when doing outdoor rituals - to assure that no winged protein commits suicide in what you plan to put in your mouth.

As I read "Breaking the Rules…," the phrase "Keltrian beliefs" caught my eye. The word "belief" appears in outdated Keltrian publications; however, the revamp of the old correspondence course provided an opportunity to review what was working in the Keltrian tradition and what was not. The Council of Elders dropped the term "belief" from Keltrian theology for several solid reasons. For one thing, "belief" as a condition of spiritual participation is a form of mind control. We do not dictate dogma and never have. There is also the consideration that relying on "belief" is often used as an excuse for not taking responsibility for choices of behavior and subsequent consequences. After lengthily considerations such as these, the Council of Elders substituted the word "hallmark" because it is defined as a principle or standard that describes a code of ethics rather than a list of what Keltrians should think – i.e. believe. Our hallmarks are calls to action rather than marching orders.

I also took a close look at two paragraphs that apparently are intended to support Jenne's argument for unilateral augmentation of Keltrian thought and practices. Her idea is that it's "appropriate" to reinterpret old Irish "lore/myths/scholarly materials" and make subsequent changes. When she points out that there is "great room for interpretation" of scholarly speculations and archeological finds. My mind immediately flashed to David Macaulay's book, Motel of the Mysteries. In USA, in the year 4022, a group of archeologists uncover a no-tell motel. They quickly determined that TVs were altars because there were bodies in front of them. They also determined that toothbrushes were ceremonial earrings, and a toilet seat was obviously part of a high priest's regalia and worn around the neck. Even bathtub plugs were meaningful artifacts. Sounds silly, doesn't it? It does to me, too.

Hallmark 9 describes our dedication to accepting new, proven scholarship even if it means changing core practices. In the end, and above all else, new knowledge is only adopted if it's sensible and enhances Keltrian Druidism. Only the Council of Elders can approve and implement alterations. Hallmark 9 also acknowledges that ancient, present and future Druids were, are and will be vastly different. Although, all three would have profound experiences when encountering a giant sequoia for the first time. Even so, how they describe their reactions would be very different. Jenne goes on to point out that religious practices change, which is also addressed by this Hallmark. A viable church must respond in relevant ways to the needs of its membership, and Keltria pledges to do this. Both the issues of scholarship and cultural/personal evolution are already covered by this Hallmark, and procedures are set in place to address them. I don't understand why Jenne mentions these subjects as if we have never considered them.

Jenne lists several "downsides" to practicing Keltrian Druidism although these impress me as simple excuses for not going "by the book." Quite frankly, I see little in her article that doesn't have a common-sense solution. Keltrian practices are adaptable in many ways to accommodate circumstance, location and health issues. In the case of alcoholism or being underage, as I mentioned before, spring water is the best substitution for mead. When practicing in a place where candles are banned due to safety concerns, battery operated ones are quite convincing when it comes to creating the ambiance necessary for a ritual frame of mind. Hand-sickles are available for under ten dollars in hardware stores. When it's not possible to use a sickle, such as in a public park, or for that matter any Keltrian rite, a hand cupped to form a sickle shape works just fine. The sickle is a hallow and cannot be replaced to perform Keltrian consecrations, nor can the branch. Our Keltrian in Singapore described the danger in procuring a fresh Sacrificial Branch for each Feast observance, so she picked up a fallen branch. Even so, she was nervous about making that a practice because it could be misconstrued by local authorities followed by dire consequences. When asked, we suggested that she decorate the branch she had with ribbons and trinkets appropriate for the season and re-use it. All it takes is a little creative thinking and transformative magick – another subject discussed in the Book of Keltria – to practice Keltrian Druidism. If no viable solution for an obstacle presents itself, email the Henge office and ask an Elder. We're always willing to look for an answer that is within the realm of Keltrian theology and practice.

I recognize that following the Keltrian tradition can be a challenge, but this is not a negative aspect. Jenne mentions the lack of land, but that isn't a downside - it's a reality of life for most of us. Outdoors is the gold standard, but not always an option. I'll wager that most of us conduct our rituals indoors for reasons that are beyond our control. For many Keltrians, a separate ritual room is a luxury. I've seen cupboards that function as altars when indoor space is at a premium. I've also had to move furniture to make enough room to hold rites, and then put it all back again. Most physical challenges can be accommodated when it comes to performing our rites. Although, when I consider the hypothetical celebrant with an incense allergy, I have no simple solution. I do have to ask, though, why would someone attend a church that considers the use of incense an integral part of their observances? Let's say this person decided to be a Catholic. Would she approach the priest and ask him to ban the use of incense? Probably not. Why then, hypothetically, would it be acceptable to leave it out of Keltrian practices? It's not. Incense is essential for receiving the blessings of the Gods and Goddesses of our tribe. Even if a celebrant performs a Keltrian ritual alone, incense burning must be a part of it otherwise it's not a Keltrian rite. There are solid theological reasons for every element of our observances and these are explained in the Book of Keltria. The bottom line is that if health issues or other circumstances prevent performance of our rituals, then Keltrian Druidism is not the right path to pursue.

A person who doesn't follow the Keltrian ritual format and/or whose behavior is in direct opposition to the Keltrian Hallmarks and bylaws is not practicing Keltrian Druidism. Twenty years ago, we were contacted by some people who wanted to join Keltria. We were pleased about that - it's rare to have an established group want to join; however, after further communication, we were told no, they didn't want to do Keltrian ritual. They already had their chosen deities and rituals. They just thought the name was really cool and wanted to use it. We respectfully turned down their request but admired their honesty. More recently, I accepted a student who was pushing hard for initiation. He swore up and down that he read our book, understood the contents, and no, he had no questions. That struck me as odd and I doubted his word when he seemed to be unaware of rudimentary Keltrian theology and practices. He also balked at taking our course because of the required work involved. Eventually, he admitted that he wanted to combine Keltrian Druidism with a Christian sect that was his first allegiance. I had no choice but to say no, and he evaporated.

Modification of the Keltrian ritual format is never "necessary." A "modified" ritual may not be "inferior" as Jenne points out, but it's certainly not Keltrian. Jenne's choice of a title for her article is……..unfortunate. The word "rules" is synonymous with "hallmarks," which are the core of Keltria's theology and practice. There are plenty of opportunities for creativity and self-expression within Keltria without "breaking the rules." The purpose of the Book of Keltria is to strengthen spiritual relationships with other Keltrians by sharing a common practice. Dismantling Keltria's core practices and hallmarks for convenience or personal preference effectively breaks the heart of Keltrian Druidism. If celebrants are encouraged to whimsically satisfy their sensitivities and sensibilities, eventually we will have nothing in common to keep our far-flung tribe together – the Henge of Keltria will cease to exist.

Jenne describes going "by the book" as another negative aspect of what we do and poses a question: "You've read the lore and continue to practice – and come to different conclusions than listed in the official texts. Are you still a Keltrian?" My response: No. Keltria fosters freethinking and provides a framework for self-exploration and growth. This is the essence of Hallmark 8. It never occurred to me that someone would take liberties with what we have carefully crafted over years of trial and error. If a person is not thriving within the Keltrian system, we have ordained clergy who will listen and offer suggestions. When members come to different conclusions after serious study, it's not "perfectly appropriate" to alter established theology and practices. It is appropriate to contact the Council of Elders and discuss why a change is warranted.

I filled out a registration form for a festival recently. One of the lines was this: Do you have any food allergies (NOT dislikes). This came to the forefront of my mind as I read Jenne's essay. Eliminating elements of the Keltrian ritual outline because they are inconvenient or making other changes for personal preference is not an option. Picking and choosing what is attractive in any spiritual practice and leaving out what isn't dilutes the tradition and dishonors it. The Henge of Keltria is a religious order, not an umbrella group for members to do what they will in Keltria's name. I fought very hard for that distinction.

Following the Keltrian path is meant to be spiritually fulfilling, not easy. If the Keltrian experience is found lacking, cutting and pasting deities and ritual elements to suit personal preferences is not the answer. We encourage our members to evolve spiritually and recognize the possibility that they may outgrow our practices and theology over time. So be it. I often say, "Let's walk the Keltrian path together as we honor, revere and celebrate our Triad. If the time of parting comes, let us do so in peace and as friends."

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About Wren

Wren has been active in the NeoPagan community since 1979. As an avid festival participant, she conducted classes and workshops in Keltrian Druidism and related subjects, utilizing the disciplines of Bard, Seer and Druid. Wren also served three consecutive terms as president of the Henge from 1997 to 2003, and then as vice-president from 2003 to 2009. She is in the Ring of the Oak and a member of the Council of Elders. In her “spare” time, she enjoys tending her large collection of houseplants, playing with her three cats and the company of her beloved husband. She also makes it a point to travel to remote quarries and dig for elusive gemstones to have cut and set into jewelry.

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